What the Dickens?

Did you know that the phrase ‘What the dickens?’ doesn’t actually refer to Charles Dickens at all since it was used before he was even born? Shakespeare used the phrase in III, ii of Merry Wives of Windsor, but it was seen in writing in as early as the 1500s. According to The Guardian, some say that it derived from a Dickins or Dickson, a bowl maker who had a habit of losing money. What the dickens? Well, at least we can’t blame Charles…

I’ve decided to enter the Charles Dickens Reading Challenge hosted by Abby, from Newly Impassioned Soul.

Charles Dickens reading challenge

I know I am a bit late to join and it’s not exactly the beginning of the year; however, I hope to read three of his books to celebrate it being the bicentenary of his birth. I have already finished Great Expectations earlier this year in January, so I suppose that counts as one to cross off my list. I have also read Little Dorrit, A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist; however, none of those were read this year.

As part of the challenge, I would like to read:

1. Great Expectations

2. Bleak House

3. Our Mutual Friend

How exciting! Thanks to Abby for organising this challenge.

Which Dickensian books are you reading this year?

STL.
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Period Drama Advice Event

To all of those who don’t follow The Elegance of Fashion, an amusing competition event is being held whereby we are given a plea of help from a fictional character, and must reply in the voice of another. Unfortunately, I’ve only just discovered her wonderful blog and this event, so I am entering the final stage; however, this was really fun! I hope you enjoy reading my three attempts (to make up for not entering before!).


ORIGINAL LETTER

'Cranford' (2007)
Photo: BBC

Dear Jane Austen Advice Column,

My name is Frank Harrison. I am a medical doctor and have recently taken up a new post in the small town of Cranford where I assist the elderly Dr. Morgan by attending some of his numerous patients. Cranford is a bit of an oddity where the women reign supreme (not unlike amazons!), careless of new fashions and fearful of change. I’ve already had to rid my wardrobe of a particularly handsome red jacket because Dr. Morgan told me the ladies of Cranford would think it fanciful. But on the whole I had found the residents of Cranford very welcoming until today when many things unseen to my eye came to a head. Upon my arrival here one of my first visits was to the vicarage where I met Reverend Hutton and his lovely daughter Miss Sophy Hutton. She is an angel! and I was making strides to ask if I might court her when her young brother Walter fell ill and despite all of the methods of modern medicine I applied soon died. You may well imagine what a rift this caused between the young lady and myself and yet I loved her more each day. Quite a few months later Miss Hutton came to trust me again and I was bold enough to ask her father if I might court her. What happiness when he gave his permission! Our courtship was going on so well until this afternoon while attending the town’s May festival, it came to the attention of the whole town that two other ladies felt themselves as good as engaged to me! Miss Tompkinson is a spinsterish young lady who lives with her sister in town and though I have attended her many times for palpitations and other maladies I was never aware of having shown her any other interest than that of a doctor to his patient. Likewise Mrs. Rose, who is my widowed housekeeper, seems to think that I have shown signs of love for her, which I never have done! The worst of the matter was seeing my dear Sophy stricken with horror at my supposed unfaithfulness and see her directed away by her father. I am in a state of shock from which I shall not soon recover! Please tell me dear sir or madam, what am I to do!?!

Desperate for advice,

Dr. Frank Harrison


REPLY FROM MR TITE BARNACLE JUNIOR, OF THE CIRCUMLOCUTION OFFICE

'Little Dorrit' (2008)
Photo: BBC

To a Dr Harrison,

Oh, I say! Now, look here, Dr Harrison. Upon my soul you mustn’t just barge into the place saying you want to be advised.

It’s not anything about— Wanting to Know— or that sort of thing, is it? No, no, it’s not? You want to be advised, you say? No, no, no, that simply will not work. You have no right to come this sort of move.

Look here. Egad, you haven’t got any appointment. Oh no. You really are going at it at a great pace, you know.

Then, look here, is it private business? If it is, you oughtn’t write to us. But I say! Is this public business? If it is, I tell you what! I’ll forward this letter on to the Secretarial Department next door. Here are some forms to fill in.

Upon my soul, you mustn’t just barge into the place saying you want to be advised, I do advise. That’s not the way to do it.

Signed,

Mr T. Barnacle Jr.


REPLY FROM MARIANNE DASHWOOD (Before she fell for Col. Brandon)

'Sense & Sensibility' (2008)
Photo: BBC

Sir,

I write to you with the utmost urgency so that you may follow my words of instruction directly and end this poor, beautiful girl’s misery.

Let me be clear, as opacity cannot be tolerated in times of life and death; you have been a deceitful man and betrayed the trust of a girl with youthful innocence, whom may never see any light in this world again. Do you not see what damage you have caused with your recklessness? A woman’s first love should be treasured indeed and you have caused havoc within her heart. The once peaceful sea within her chest has now evolved into a hurricane of storms. You say that you have not come to be in this position by choice. Well then, sir— and I use that word with utter disdain as I waver on the point of your having a gentleman’s soul, mind or character,— if that is true, in order to reverse this perhaps irrevocable mess, you must consult with her at once and admit your love in the most passionate of ways. I recommend you recite to her a favourite poem of yours— you must carry around Shakespeare’s Sonnets which you have read to her, if you are her true lover, to be sure— for there is little more that a girl with a soft heart could wish for and she will surely forgive you if she loves you as a lover should.

As for the other deluded, old fools, you must dismiss them immediately without any hint of sympathy. You must not worry yourself on their behalf; those past the age of seven-and-twenty can never feel or hope to inspire affection again. Particularly the widow, she must be deranged from the death of her first love, poor soul. I hope I die before my love, that way I will never have to endure the pain of living and breathing without them, weighed down by the pain of grief. If they continually persist, ignore them entirely. I would recommend elopement with your sweetheart, and perhaps you could find a pretty church somewhere in Scotland surrounded by wild flowers. That would be best.

Sending my warmest regards to the young lady,

Marianne Dashwood

P.S. Apologies for the holes which I have eroded into this parchment and for my hurried handwriting; however, in the seriousness of this emergency, the heart of the matter is more important than the façade, indeed, is it not?

P.P.S. I enclose within my letter a sonnet which I think would be highly suitable to recite by memory to your love.


REPLY FROM MR WICKHAM

'Pride & Prejudice' (1995)
Photo: BBC

My dear friend, Dr Harrison,

I am afraid that you have got completely the wrong end of the stick! Sir, if I cried out for help whenever there was a mishap between two lovers, I would be a gentleman of leisure, with no need for a profession! If anything, you now have the upper hand. Love is like a game of cards, you must pick and choose carefully until you hit the jackpot. Strike too early and you may lose all; bet too little and you may gain nothing; time the bullet perfectly and you just might make the kill.

I can say with complete confidence that having all of this attention amongst the female sex is making yourself as a suitor become even more desirable. Being a celebrity in your village should be used to your utmost advantage. Flirt to make the “indifferent”— or so they say— jealous. The more you play, the richer those who are “indifferent” will be. You have clearly come thus far in winning the real prize— who, as I have no doubt in your being a sensible gentleman, must be worth her weight in gold,— since she is already showing signs of trepidation. All you have yet to do is flirt with the other women until they start to swoon to the ground upon seeing your handsome face, and wait for your future wife to beg you to take her in to your humble abode and marry her immediately. She will not care about any other woman, only that she is the one you have chosen. She will be grateful to you everyday and her parents will be ecstatic that you have made their previously emotionless daughter so joyful, allowing you complete access to her dowry.

If all else fails, Harrison, elope with her— or take her hostage,— then order family or anybody who cares in the slightest to pay immediately so that you may be married, or else lead the family further into scandal. Alternatively, an inside source tells me that the British red uniform lies very well over in the minds of the New World’s finest, richest ladies. The gambling is also said to be reputable over there.

Yours faithfully,

George Wickham


Thanks for reading!  I’ll let you know how the short-listing goes!

STL.

Great Expectations (TV mini-series)

Rating: 5 out of 5 somersaults.

The BBC’s lavish production of ‘Great Expectations,’ which finished airing last night on PBS, was both breathtaking and spine-chilling. I watched it in December when it fist aired here in the UK and absolutely loved it.

The clean cinematography made the programme visually stunning and greatly aided the director, Brian Kirk, in bringing his new take on Dickens’ classic story to life.

The acting was also out of the ordinary. The series got off to a sumptuous start with wide-angle shots of a gloomy swamp, which looked like a clip from a horror film. The steel, unsaturated look captured perfectly the squirmish feelings which I had when I read the opening chapter of the novel. I also found Orlick and Magwitch to be suitably vile.

Gillian Anderson, who played the infamous Miss Havisham, did a wonderful job. The forty-three year old actress is the youngest to have ever played the part; therefore, she was naturally put under the spotlight by critics. I found that her youthful portrayal of the old woman was fresh as she showed that Miss Havisham may old in her mind after refusing to leave Satis House on her wedding day, but truthfully she is young in spirit. She represents the destruction love can make on the young and passionate. Her frail white hair and lips, paired with her soft, eery voice made me shiver. Anderson is not unknown to Dickens adaptations, and she may be familiar to you as Lady Dedlock from Bleak House (2005).

Douglas Booth, who played Pip as a young man, was praised by the press for his accomplished acting; however, many disagree as to whether he was right for the part. Some said that he was too good-looking to play Pip, even more so than Estella, who was played by Vanessa Kirby. Since Estella is meant to be a heart-breaker, they argue that she should be stunning compared to a more ordinary-looking protagonist, Pip. For myself, I cannot see how casting the Burberry model/actor should make the series any less agreeable. It just reinforces the stylised take Kirk has made on the novel and adds to the sense of fantasy which Dickens created.  The adaptation involves a lot of an artist playing around and experimenting, and I think it paid off.

The only major turn-off for me was the gory scenes of violence; however, Dickens used strong references to violence in his plot lines, anyway. The BBC did not invent Victorian England! Besides, I’m a squirmer and can’t stand that kind of thing, so it might not bother some others.

Overall I thought the production was fantastic. It was extravagantly done and on the cinematography alone, I would give it a rating of five somersaults. Add in Douglas Booth’s chiselled cheek-bones and Gillian Anderson’s hair-raising presence, and you have me on board.

My thoughts on the book are recorded here.

STL.

Photos: BBC

Thoughts on Reading ‘Great Expectations’

Last weekend, one of my favourite screen adaptations from last year visited the televisions of those of you over the pond. Great Expectations continues on PBS this weekend, starring Gillian Anderson, Douglas Booth and others. After you have all finished watching the final episodes, I’ll post my review.  Meanwhile, here are my thoughts on the novel itself…

Miss Havisham

Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham in the BBC's Great Expectations. Photo: BBC

I read the book a few months ago and thought that it would make sense to post my reflections on one of Charles Dickens’ most famous pieces of work. I am no expert on Charles Dickens, nor do I pretend to be, so please read my thoughts with that in mind – these are simply my meanderings.

Great Expectations

Rating: 4 out of 5 somersaults.

Favourite character: Herbert Pocket

Least favourite character: Orlick

A favourite quotation:

“Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are the rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts.”

(Warning: Spoilers)

Although Dickens wrote about the grim skyline of London in the 19th century, he added sparkle and wit paired with mystery and suspense to make the novel an enjoyable read, despite the often strange and eerie atmosphere which was intentionally created. The narration was wonderful and I particularly enjoyed the humorous aspects of the dialogue; for instance, the cautious Mr Wemmick and Pip visiting his “castle” and the charmingly hilarious occasions when Joe and the young Pip were learning how to spell. I loved this moment when the young Pip, dreaming of becoming apprenticed to Joe, wrote a message for him on his slate:

“MI DEER JO i OPE U R KR WITE WELL i OPE i SHAL SON B HABELL 4 2 TEEDGE U JO AN THEN WE SHORL B SO GLODD AN WEN i M PRENGTD 2 U JO WOT LARX AN BLEVE ME INF XN PIP.” […]

“Astonishing!” said Joe, when I had finished. “You ARE a scholar.”

Towards the end, I admit that the protagonist, Pip, was starting to get on my nerves. I found his character frustrating because he simply could not see that Estella was manipulative, spoilt and abhorrent. He might have been blinded by love, but I thought he was just blind altogether. I found the villains of the story creepy and gruesome; however, they were the ones who kept me turning the pages as I needed to make sure that “the good ended happily, and the bad ended unhappily. That is what fiction means,” (to quote the omniscient Miss Prism).

After reading the novel, I felt extremely dissatisfied with the ending. Did Estella deserve Pip? No. My immediate reaction was that I wished Pip had fallen in love with Biddy and ended up marrying her; however, I gradually saw the flaws with this proposed ending. Firstly, Biddy was too nice for Pip, who was too materialistic and bad with money. Joe, although described as “the village idiot,” was at least honest and kind-hearted. The only satisfactory ending for me was the marriage between the colourful Herbert Pocket and the sweet (but boring) Clara Barley.

I have also read that the original ending was written so that Estelle married again and Pip was left alone and single. Would this have been more appropriate? I think it would. I do not believe that Estella deserved him, and in many ways, Pip did not deserve her. If they had married, things would not have ended well. Pip sees everything surrounding her as rose-tinted, and he fails to see reality. Estella, on the other hand, is too obnoxious and cruel. Ultimately, we are meant to feel that she has changed and moved on, but I am still left with doubts.

I realise that Great Expectations is not a romantic novel; it is a story full of villains, heroes, humorous storylines, twists and subplots. This is Dickens, not Austen. Yet, if they are definitely not going to marry ‘happily ever after,’ why does the author have to waver between a half-hearted marriage used as a simple plot device, and one which would be miserably depressing, yet more dramatic. Personally, endings have a bigger dramatic impact if they are definite, not ambiguous. Apparently, Dickens’ publishers complained that the original ending was too sad; however, Great Expectations is a sombre book in many respects and I think that it would have fitted in more with the novel as a whole.

I hope that you do not think that I am being too negative. Let me reassure you, although there were some things which I found frustrating about the novel, I read through it with great enthusiasm and animation. I have given it 4/5 somersaults because it is a brilliant work of fiction on a completely different level to other (dare I say, contemporary?) books. I loved it; however, I did not enjoy it as much as I enjoyed reading Little Dorrit where Amy Dorrit and Arthur Clennam were more amiable characters than Pip and Estella, I found.

What were your thoughts? Have I got it completely wrong? (I might have.) I’d love to hear your opinions, too.

STL.

Edit: See here for thoughts on the BBC’s adaptation (2011).